Using the web is an integral part of our daily lives – from online shopping, to banking, healthcare, and communication. Digital accessibility in these online experiences has become a critical element of how we function in society. But what if your digital and online experiences are limited with barriers as an individual with disabilities? How can inclusive user experience be created for anyone who accesses the web?
1 in 4 adults in the United States lives with some type of disability. Sources also indicate that working adults with disabilities present a disposable after-tax income of approximately $490 billion. Creating an engaging, frictionless, and accessible user experience means increasing the ability to grow your customer base, increase revenue, all while meeting social and ethical responsibilities.
With technology centralizing nearly every process of our lives, digital accessibility should and must be a priority for organizations globally. Let’s take a deeper dive into understanding and defining digital accessibility and its core principles, its role and importance on a business, legal and societal level, along with compliance regulations and standards. We’ll also explore practical tips to building digitally accessible websites, applications, and digital content to create seamlessly inclusive online experiences for everyone.
What is Digital Accessibility?
Digital accessibility is the process of removing barriers in digital content – from websites, to apps, digital assets like PDFs, and other online platforms, ensuring they’re inclusive, beneficial, and easy to use for people of all abilities.
Barrier-free digital accessibility requires implementing design and development practices that make digital content accessible to the widest possible audience, including people with a range of disabilities such as:
- Visual Impairments – including limited to low vision, varying degrees of blindness to total loss of vision, and deaf-blindness.
- Motoric Disabilities – including any conditions that limit range of motion or dexterity required to use a mouse or navigate touchscreens, rheumatoid or musculoskeletal conditions, missing limbs from birth or other injuries, along with temporary impairment due to accidents.
- Cognitive & Learning Disabilities or Impairments – including an individual’s capacity to process and understand information, and can affect their sensory and communication abilities from movement, to speech, sight, and physical interaction with their environment. Conditions include, ADHD, epilepsy, learning disabilities, autism, and MS.
- Deafness or Hearing Impairments – including minimal loss or limitation of hearing, to full deafness.
WCAG Digital Accessibility Standards & Principles
The WCAG 2.0 clearly articulates the standards and critical principles to ensure content and online assets are digitally accessible. The acronym POUR (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust) breaks down the guiding principles for digital accessibility, explaining how users should be able to interact with digital resources based on the elements that should be included.
1. Perceivable – Any insights, information, and aspects of a UI (User Interface) of a platform, website, or application should be accessible and presented to all users so that they can be perceived with simplicity. This includes, navigation menu, links, headers and overall perception of digital asset elements.
2. Operable – any user should be able to operate and navigate the various elements of a website, PDF, platform, or application.
3. Understandable – all digital content users should be able to understand the information it provides, so creating assets with simple, straightforward language and navigation is critical.
4. Robust – anyone using assistive technologies to process or navigate a digital asset should be able to do so with ease, with the content sufficiently robust for use of solutions like screen readers, braille displays, and keyboard navigation.
WCAG digital accessibility guidelines and requirements are broken down into 3 levels of compliance, each with an increasing level of conformance to regulations that’s required for content to be digitally accessible.
Level A: Is the lowest level of digital accessibility compliance that helps ensure content is digitally accessible on a basic level for anyone with disabilities.
Level AA: The majority of companies and organizations should meet both Level A & AA WCAG requirements, particularly for websites, and ideally the next level below as well, AAA.
Level AAA: Is the strictest digital accessibility standards to meet. As your content becomes increasingly digitally accessible based on the regulations, organizations expand their audience reach and offering to more individuals with diverse needs.
Try to look at reaching compliance levels as part of your process to increase your organization’s awareness, consideration, and inclusiveness of every possible online and digital user of your content, as opposed to meeting the requirements of a legal checklist.
Why is Digital Accessibility Important?
Since technology runs so many aspects of our lives, digital accessibility is everyone’s right and every organization’s responsibility. From designers and developers, to content creators and stakeholders, following digital accessibility standards is imperative to any technology or website design on a business, legal, and ethical level. Reasons and incentives to benchmark and lead as innovators of digital accessibility standards include:
- Legal compliance: Complying with regulatory requirements such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the United States and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are essential for digital accessibility. Failing to comply with these laws can result in penalties, lawsuits, and reputational damage.
- Increased Audience Reach: Digitally accessible assets will help your organization increase your target audience and loyal customer base, including people with disabilities who might otherwise experience barriers accessing your products and services.
- Improved User Experience: Optimizing digital accessibility standards improves user experience for every user, not just those with disabilities. Enabling and including video closed-captions and transcripts for videos benefits individuals with hearing, cognitive, or learning disabilities, but also helps someone who prefers to read and consume content without audio.
- Social Responsibility: Digital accessibility is recognized as part of social and ethical responsibilities, as opposed to being a strictly legal conformance matter. Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion is fostered when technologies and assets are digitally accessible, celebrating, acknowledging, and respecting the diverse needs of all individuals.
- Protecting Brand Reputation: By prioritizing digital accessibility you position your brand as an industry leader, with inclusivity and innovation boosting brand reputation and giving you a practical advantage over competitors.
- Innovation & Future-Proofing: The demand for accessibility is only increasing as our world population ages and with increased awareness of diverse user needs. Investing in digital accessibility can add an innovative touch to user experience that’s forward-thinking in a critically technological world.
Practical Tips for Digitally Accessible Content
Here are some practical tips to help ensure digitally accessible online and document content is inclusive, compliant and barrier-free:
1. Alternative Text for Images
People who have vision impairments or disabilities may use screen readers to access digital content. Without alternative text, (also known as “alt text”), screen readers are unable to read images, creating barriers for individuals who may be blind or have vision impairments. By including alt text with images, websites, documents, applications, and platforms become digitally accessible to everyone.
2. Closed Captioning or Transcripts for Videos
Videos should include closed captions or transcripts to make them digitally accessible to people with hearing impairments. Closed captions provide a text-based representation of the audio, making it possible for viewers to follow along with the content even if they are unable to hear it.
3. Keyboard Navigation
Some people with physical disabilities may have challenges using a mouse or other pointing device. By providing users with keyboard navigation, websites and platforms become more digitally accessible, helping them to navigate and interact with the content using only the keyboard.
People who are blind or have low vision can benefit from text-to-speech technology, which reads digital content out loud. This feature allows users to access content that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
5. Adjustable Text Size and Font
Some people with visual impairments may have difficulty reading small text or certain fonts. By providing adjustable text size and font options, websites, documents, applications, and platforms become more digitally accessible to these individuals, allowing them to adjust the content to their specific needs.
6. Audio Descriptions
Videos that include audio descriptions provide additional context for people who are blind or have low vision. Audio descriptions provide a narration of the visual content, making it possible for viewers to understand what’s happening in the video without having to rely on visuals.
7. Assistive Technology Compatibility
People with disabilities often use assistive technology to access digital content, such as screen readers, voice recognition software or alternative input devices. Make sure your digital content has assistive technology features so people with disabilities can access your content with ease.
UserWay: Partners on Your Digital Accessibility Journey
Driving digital accessibility is an ongoing process that is fueled by the goal to benchmark new digital accessibility standards as innovators. Creating inclusive, digitally accessible content allows individuals of all walks of life and disability to experience the online and digital realm equality without barriers.
UserWay’s mission is to make the digital world accessible to people of all abilities. As a leader in AI-Powered accessibility solutions, UserWay’s widget, scanner, and checker provide insights to help ensure digitally accessible content – from websites, to documents, platforms, and more. With reports that identify violations, guiding you to remediate and fix them, creating digitally accessible content is an easier and seamless process. With human-in-the-loop services like our Legal Support Program and manual audits of digital content, UserWay supports you in your journey to increasing digital accessible standards with every step.
Book a meeting with us to start your digital accessibility journey today.
What is Digital Accessibility?
Creating digitally accessible content is about breaking down barriers and making sure that everyone has equal access to digital assets. Whether it’s designing a website that’s compatible with keyboard navigation, providing captions for videos, or ensuring that text has sufficient color contrast for people with low vision, digital accessibility is about making sure that everyone can engage and interact with digital content.
Is Meeting Digital Accessibility Standards required by Law?
Web accessibility is not just a nice-to-have, it’s essential. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates digital accessibility, and while The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is not a law in and of itself, it’s widely recognized and adopted as the standard for digital accessibility standards of compliance.
Will Digital Accessibility Standards Change?
As technology evolves and new and innovative methods are used to engage audiences, digital accessibility standards will also evolve. New legal requirements are introduced on an ongoing basis, and it’s important for organizations to update and ensure they meet digital accessibility standards. By ensuring inclusion, your organization also maintains sound legal standing with ADA mandates. Digital accessibility is dynamic, requiring ongoing attention and action to ensure that everyone can access and benefit from the digital world.